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ECD CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: PRSA PITTSBURGH – STRONG AS STEEL, FLOWING LIKE A RIVER THROUGH CHALLENGING TIMES

I visited Pittsburgh for a job interview years ago. On the way from the airport to WTAE-TV the cabbie mentioned, “You know about 80% of the population of Pittsburgh is born and raised in Allegheny County.”

I heard that factoid at least three more times before my flight home.

The people of Pittsburgh own their city, and the same can be said of PRSA Pittsburgh chapter members.

“The City of Neighborhoods,” the sixth most livable city in the U.S., is a big league metro with a hometown feel.

Likewise, PRSA Pittsburgh is an exciting, progressive chapter and a close-knit club. When industry legend Steve Radick or current Pittsburgh Business Times “30 Under 30” star Jordan Mitrik talk about their chapter, don’t expect to get a word in edgewise.

Why even try to stop them? They have a lot to say because they have accomplished much and have much more they want to do.

It’s fair to say the chapter leadership didn’t just pivot with COVID, they ran circles around it, increasing programming 131%. As Jordan said, “The pandemic forced us to break habits, form new ones and allowed us to focus on what mattered most within our Chapter: our members.”

To face the challenge of DEI, they leaned-in and then kept pushing. Most chapters would be proud of any one of their initiatives.  The PRSA Pittsburgh Diversity & Inclusion Pledge is perhaps the most intriguing.  Read more in Jordan’s summary and decide for yourselves.

It takes hard work on the part of all PRSA chapters to keep their organizations alive and thriving, especially through a pandemic.  It’s beyond impressive to see the Pittsburg members devote volunteer time, sweat equity, and talent to not just their chapter, but to public service across their community.

Maybe that’s what makes Pittsburgh a “City of Neighborhoods.” Every neighborhood is your neighborhood.

A lot of water has run through the Three Rivers since my cab ride in Pittsburgh. The city now balances a population of “Born and Raised” with the “Born and Moved Away.” But a “Fun Fact” Jordan offers about the Pittsburgh Chapter speaks volumes about why so many natives and neighbors always have Pittsburgh on their minds.

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT: PRSA Pittsburgh 

 Completed by Jordan Mitrik, 2020-21 PRSA Pittsburgh President 

  Give us a brief history of your chapter (when it was founded, how many members). 

 PRSA Pittsburgh was chartered in 1953 – so for all the PR pros who don’t like math like me – we’re celebrating 68 years as a Chapter!  

 For several years, we’ve consistently maintained a membership of more than 200 professionals within the western Pennsylvania region. However, as all Chapters across the country are experiencing, we’ve seen a slight decrease within the past year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently at approximately 180 members, but we are looking forward to seeing this increase again as we adapt to our new normal.  

 At our core, our Chapter’s vision is to create an exceptional member experience that educates, inspires, guides and galvanizes a diverse community of ethical, strategic communications professionals in our region. 

 We also are the proud sponsoring Chapter to 12 PRSSA Chapters at California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University, Duquesne University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst University, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, Slippery Rock University, Washington & Jefferson College, Waynesburg University, and Westminster College. 

 Who are your current executive officers? 

President | Jordan Mitrik, Brunner 

Vice President  | Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite 

Secretary | Kristen Wishon, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council 

Treasurer | Darcey Mamone, NAMI  

Assistant Treasurer | Brian Ackermann, Health+Commerce 

 Describe your membership. (General professional representation). 

 Most of our members service industries in line with those that lead the economy of the Pittsburgh region, including: healthcare, transportation, banking and utilities.  

 That said, overall membership continues to span across virtually all organizational settings. Our current breakdown includes:   

  • 30% — Corporate 
  • 30% — Agency 
  • 14% — Nonprofit 
  • 14% — Education 
  • 12% — Other 

We also have an interesting breakdown as it relates to how long our members have spent in the industry, with 26% having less than 5 years of experience (which we consider young professionals), 38% having 6—19 years of experience, and 36% having 20+ years of experience.  

 In addition, we have 11 members Accredited in Public Relations and 3 in the PRSA College of Fellows!  

What is normally your biggest project of the year? 

 We host the annual PR Summit – our largest professional development conference – which is geared towards both our PRSA members and surrounding PRSSA Chapter members. We’ve tackled topics ranging from PR disruption and the search for authenticity, to failing forward and how communicators can turn their mistakes into lessons learned. In 2020, we hosted weekly virtual presentationsfeaturing topics in recognition of Global Diversity Awareness Month and facilitated hard conversations worth discussing regarding mental illness, ageism, race, and more in the PR industry. We’re currently in the process of planning our 2021 event, which will discuss misinformation in the media and the communicator’s role guarding against it!  

 Our biggest non-professional development event is our Renaissance Awards — which attracts between 150 to 230 professionals each year. Our 2021 ceremony, held virtually for the first time ever, recognized more than 30 different communication campaigns and tactics created in 2020 from some of the most recognizable brands both regionally and nationally such as Duquesne Light Company, Highmark, Pittsburgh Zoo, Starkist and The Home Depot. 

 How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic? 

 The pandemic forced us to break habits, form new ones and allowed us to focus on what mattered most within our Chapter: our members. We immediately prioritized new ways to offer valuable programming virtually through Zoom, Instagram Live, Facebook or email communication that we likely wouldn’t have done during any other year. As a result, we more than doubled the number of opportunities for members and increased programming by 131% YoY. We also adapted quickly by reinstating a Diversity & Inclusion Chair position and forming a committee to build awareness of D&I standards, resources, and best practices for communications professionals (more on that later!). 

 In addition, we put a greater emphasis on our young professionals within our membership, including PRSSA students and recent graduates in the area, many of whom felt lost and defeated as it pertained to launching a career due to the uncertainty that stemmed from the pandemic. In 2020, we launched a private Facebook Group specifically for professionals and pre-professionals with less than 5 years of experience in our region. We regularly host Facebook Live events, share job and internship postings, and offer AMA events that have allowed members to virtually network with peers that share their industry commitment and help them understand the unique challenges that new professionals and students face.  

 We currently have more than 250 professionals and pre-professionals in the Group!  

 How is your chapter leaned into Diversity, Inclusion and Equity? 

 As previously mentioned, in 2020, our Chapter reinstated a Diversity & Inclusion Chair position as a mandatory board member after the role was vacant the last few years. We then quickly formed a D&I Committee underneath the position, simply because we needed a dedicated task force to tackle the lack of diversity in the PR industry.  

 Now more than ever, we are committed to elevating the voices and telling the stories of those who are so often unheard in the PR industry. Some of our Chapter’s efforts (so far) include: 

  • Established a workflow that ensures our efforts support D&I initiatives in four categories: 1) content, 2) audience appeal, 3) speaker / panelists and 4) impact; 
  • Developed PRSA Pittsburgh’s Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit for those who want to learn about the significance of D&I to the PR industry; 
  • Held a lunch & learn panel discussion with local D&I professionals representing DICK’s Sporting Goods, PPG, and the Pittsburgh Penguins to discuss recent events and the ways in which communicators can implement D&I efforts in our workplaces and communities; 
  • Held a programming event entitled, “Empowering Tomorrow’s PR Leaders: PR Girl Manifesto Joins PRSA Pittsburgh for Black History Month” with guest speaker Fatou Barry, brand strategist and founder of PR Girl Manifesto
  • Created and distributed the PRSA Pittsburgh Diversity & Inclusion Pledge for members to virtually sign and commit to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

 In addition, and perhaps one of our most rewarding efforts to date, we created and awarded our first annual Black Excellence Award in response to the lack of diversity in the profession, particularly in the Pittsburgh region, and to show young professionals there is a home for them in the Pittsburgh PR community. This endowment grants $2,000 to and is intended to assist and recognize a new graduate who is of African American / Black ancestry – working in the PR, marketing or communications field – for outstanding academic achievement and commitment to the practice of public relations in the region. We presented the first award, sponsored by BCW Global, this year at our Renaissance Awards to Isabella Moreland of Gateway Health.  

 What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

I must admit, I’m so proud of all the work that our board of directors, committees, and member volunteers have accomplished in the last 18 months while I’ve served as Chapter President, that it’s hard to pick just one!  

 Aside from some of the efforts I’ve already shared, perhaps the Chapter’s proudest achievement is our ongoing commitment to public service and giving back to Pittsburgh organizations that need it most, particularly in 2020.  

 For as long as I can remember, our Chapter has had a dedicated Public Service Chair and Committee responsible for implementing one public service project to support the communications efforts of an area nonprofit. At the beginning of the pandemic, we realized it was more important than ever for us to rally around the Pittsburgh-area nonprofits that were in greatest need, so we adjusted the focus to help area-nonprofits deeply affected by COVID-19. 

 After receiving many moving responses to our RFP, we selected, for the first time ever, two nonprofits – Pittsburgh Hires Veterans and Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) Pittsburgh – and offered pro bono support over the course of six months.  

 As a result, our committee provided the two-person staff at Pittsburgh Hires Veterans strategic counsel for social media, email marketing, and media relations. For SWSG, the committee delivered communications and marketing support for their first-ever virtual 2020 Strong Awards, their primary fundraising event. Through these efforts, SWSG surpassed its ticket sales revenue by 150%, received 3.95 million impressions for the Strong Awards through media outreach, and the event had more than 300 individuals in attendance, doubling its results YoY during their 2019 in-person event.  

 This year, we’ve continued our trend of doubling our public service efforts and are partnering with two new organizations – Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania and When She Thrives – and will be supporting them with overall brand direction and strategic communications efforts for fundraising initiatives, respectively.   

 It was truly inspiring to watch our members give their time to work with these organizations that experienced a challenging year, especially knowing it was a challenging year for everyone.   

 Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share? 

 We’re excited to have our Pittsburgh Chapter represented at the National level! Ben Butler, APR, former Chapter President, currently serves as a Senior Counsel Member to PRSA’s 2021 Board of Directors. He also recently served as the PRSSA 2018-2020 National Professional Adviser.  

 We also have members of our Pittsburgh Chapter that live outside western Pennsylvania! 5% of our membership don’t call Pennsylvania their current home and reside in the surrounding states of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio.  

 What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”? 

A dedicated and diverse board of directors. Our group consists of individuals of all ages, experience, and walks of life – from 2020 college graduates to professionals with 40 years of experience – and having that diversity has challenged our thinking, offered great dialogue, expanded our perspective, pushed our creativity, and ultimately resulted in more opportunities for our members. We’ve continued traditional tactics that we know work while introducing new channels, topics, and ways of working into the mix that have helped us evolve. Our members have appreciated our adaptability, and that’s all we can ask for.  

 Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you? 

 info@prsa-pgh.org  

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SMALL CHAPTER, BIG HEART: ECD JUNE CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT TRAVELS TO LAKE ERIE TO HONOR PRSA NORTHWESTERN PA

PRSA Northwestern Pennsylvania provides a wonderful example of how chapters large and small share the same goals of advancing the profession and providing benefit for their members. Northwestern PA states the case that no matter the membership, every chapter has value.

Our thanks go to Northwestern PA Chapter President Larry Klick for providing the information and insights into what makes Northwestern click.

Though a small chapter, Northwestern stood tall during the tumultuous times of COVID and civil unrest.  “We co-sponsored a panel discussion with Erie News Now titled Delivering the Message which was live streamed through their website and various social media channels,” said Larry.

“It focused on the role of public relations in helping to mitigate unprecedented levels of unrest driven not only by the pandemic, but also by the BLM movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.”

As Larry reveals in this month’s Chapter Spotlight, Northwestern survives as a unique organization in the Erie area.

Erie is the fourth-largest city in Pennsylvania, but small enough to appear as the hometown of the fictional band “The Wonders” in the Tom Hanks film “That Thing You Do!”

The city was named for the Native American Erie people. The Iroquois gave up ownership to the Erie Triangle after the American Revolutionary War, and Pennsylvania later bought the land for 75 cents per acre.

Erie is known as the “Flagship City” because of its status as the home port of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship Niagara. Perry won the historic Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812.

Today the Northwestern chapter recognizes local PR professionals with its Niagara Awards.

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

The PRSA NWPA Chapter was founded in 2010 with 10 members. The latest count is 23 members.

Who are your current executive officers?

President: Larry Klick

Past President: Joelyn Bush

Secretary: Lisa Graff

Treasurer: Michele King

Describe your membership

The chapter, while on the smaller side, covers a vast majority of the Marketing & Communication spectrum. Our membership runs the gamut of professionals from large corporations to outstanding local non-profits and everything in between.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

The Niagara Awards, which celebrate outstanding achievement among local marketing and communication professionals.

How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like everyone else, we developed a system to shift our educational events and board meetings into a virtual setting. We’ll be exploring the possibilities of live streaming events to reach the largest audience possible, while also providing replay options for anyone who may not have been able to attend. While we are all chomping at the bit to get back to live events, it’s important to be mindful of those who may not be as enthusiastic about the notion.

How has your chapter leaned into Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?

We’ve embraced the opportunity to invite some of the most brilliant local leaders to speak to our membership about DE&I. On September 24, 2020, we co-sponsored a panel discussion with Erie News Now titled Delivering the Message which was live streamed through their website and various social media channels. It focused on the role of public relations in helping to mitigate unprecedented levels of unrest driven not only by the pandemic, but also by the BLM movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

In February we hosted a virtual seminar featuring Dr. Rhonda Matthews which was titled Inclusivity Matters: Understanding and Avoiding Bias in Communication. This offering focused on how to identify barriers to effective communication, understand them, and avoid their use in order to form stronger connections with the audience. We’re looking to have a similar offering in October of this year.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

In 2013, NWPA PRSA and Edinboro University PRSSA shared the Teahan Award for Outstanding PRSA-PRSSA Chapter Relationship. The Teahan Awards are PRSSA’s annual national awards program recognizing outstanding chapter performance in various categories.

Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share?

The PRSA NWPA Chapter is one of the last professional organizations in the Erie area dedicated to Marketing and Communication professionals. Additionally, the chapter utilizes an innovative idea in the form of a nonprofit scholarship. A handful of these are awarded each year to local professionals encouraging the involvement of potentially underfunded nonprofits in PRSA. The idea was so well received that our friends in the Greater Cleveland Chapter adopted a similar concept!

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?

An excellent Board of Directors that collaborates on educational and social events geared toward adding value to a PRSA membership.

Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you?  prsanwpa@gmail.com

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BLUEGRASS BREAKDOWN! ECD MAY CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT CATCHES BLUEGRASS CHAPTER ON THE GALLOP

It is with delight that we venture out of the Midwest in the month of May and head south to Louisville, Kentucky to shine the ECD Chapter Spotlight on the PRSA Bluegrass Chapter!

Our thanks go to Bluegrass Chapter President Alexa Bacon for providing the information and insights into what makes Bluegrass run.

All our ECD chapters are testing the turf to see how soon and how safely event planning can move away from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Like most of us, Bluegrass is not at full gallop yet, but in her Chapter Spotlight summary Alexa gives a good indication they are rounding the curve with the grandstand crowd on its feet.

“We decided to keep moving forward and produce monthly programs and virtual networking events despite the uncertainty of the pandemic,” Alexa said about the challenges of keeping the chapter meaningful to its members.

“When we were given the option to postpone our two biggest programs, we instead hosted and implemented them both 100% virtually, a feat our Landmarks chairs had to figure out on their own without any previous experience. We’ve continued our success… and hope to move to hybrid and/or in-person events in the near future.”

Finally, Bluegrass roots run deep in this chapter.  You may hear banjo strings ringing and the Bluegrass breakdown building when Alexa talks about keeping “in tune” as the secret to a happy chapter.

Give us a brief history of your chapter:

PRSA Bluegrass Chapter was founded in 1957 to serve communications professionals in Louisville, Kentucky, and the surrounding areas — including Southern Indiana. We have almost 80 registered members in our chapter and hope to continue growing in the coming years.

Who are your current executive officers?

President: Alexa Bacon                               

President-Elect: Tracy Green                                     

Immediate Past President: Abigail Varner                                           

Secretary: Lauren Deitering                                       

Treasurer: Tamara Davis

Landmarks Awards: Kelsey Thomas                                       

Membership Chair: Jody Hamilton                                         

Communications Chair: Amy Higgs                                        

Communications Support Chair: Beth Clayton                    

Ethics Chair: Lauren Cherry                                       

Director-at-Large: Rachel Collier-Carr                    

Director-at-Large: Jonathan Wahl                                          


Describe your membership:

We represent a diverse mix of experienced practitioners with a shared passion for advancing the practice of public relations across the region. From recent college graduates to leaders of some of the biggest brands in business today, our membership is made up of nearly every practice area and professional setting within the communications field. Our membership includes both agency and in-house professionals.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

For almost four decades, the Landmarks of Excellence Awards program has recognized the very best professional communications across greater Louisville. We host this event every year in October and usually receive over 200 submissions from local public relations and advertising agencies, corporate communication, and in-house marketing teams. From building a social campaign around Call to Entries to hosting the event (virtual or in-person), this requires an extensive amount of work for our Landmarks Chair and board members. In addition to presenting awards to the highest-scoring campaigns, we recognize a Communicator of the Year, Hall of Fame inductees, and Excellence in Journalism recipient each year to commend notable individuals within the Louisville area. We also highlight upcoming talent by presenting a ‘Rising Star’ award to 2-4 individuals under the age of 32 in the PR and Communications field who show great promise in their career.


How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?

When the pandemic began in March 2020, we quickly shifted our previous plans to sustain our programming while keeping everyone safe and healthy. Our main goal was to remain an active chapter during COVID so we could provide our members with resources to deal with the effects of the pandemic in their workplace and a sense of community during social distancing.

Two big shifts were re-planning our big yearly event, PR Bootcamp, which was planned in March, to an entirely virtual event in November and continuing monthly programming during a time of uncertainty. After a break in April to regroup, we began hosting monthly virtual programs for the rest of 2020 beginning with our ‘Landmarks How-To’ panel in May. We also planned a 100% virtual Landmarks event which had high attendance and participation despite the physical limitations of the pandemic.  

How is your chapter leaned into Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity?

In 2019, we decided January’s monthly program every year would center around Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity and named the program ‘Courageous Conversations.’ In January 2020, Victoria Russell — Chief of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Papa John’s Pizza — led an inspiring program about advocating for Diversity and Inclusion in our workplaces. This past January, Ashley Duncan, Vice President & Director of Inclusion and Diversity at Republic Bank, spoke about how PR and marketing professionals can be doing to ensure greater inclusivity and equity in corporate communications. We also pledged to our members in the summer of 2020 that our Chapter would provide a  $500 donation to the Louisville Urban League in honor of our 2017 Communicator of the Year, Sadiqa Reynolds, and $500 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that protects the rights of journalists across the globe so they can report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

Our proudest achievement as a chapter was successfully navigating the limitations of the pandemic and coming out stronger than ever. We decided to keep moving forward and produce monthly programs and virtual networking events despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. When we were given the option to postpone our two biggest programs, we instead hosted and implemented them both 100% virtually, a feat our Landmarks chairs had to figure out on their own without any previous experience. We’ve continued our success by hosting virtual programs in January, February, March, and May of 2021 and hope to move to hybrid and/or in-person events in the near future.

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?

Inclusion and communication are two important themes we’ve focused on this past year as a chapter. Our leadership wanted to ensure our members feel welcomed and empowered during and after our monthly programs. Hosting a diverse range of programs focused on timely topics gives our members the signal that we are in tune with important issues happening within our world and want to provide helpful content centered around these vital conversations.

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BUTLER UNIVERSITY STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION GRADUATE PROGRAMS: A STUDENT’S PERSPECTIVE FROM KYLE JOHANNSEN

PRSA East Central District is proud to have Butler University as our educational sponsor of this year’s Leadership Development programs.

It was fall 2020, in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, when Kyle Johannsen’s work travel was postponed. At the same time, Butler University launched a fully online Master’s of Strategic Communication program. Having always wanted to further her education by pursuing a master’s degree, Johannsen jumped on the opportunity to fill the time she would have spent traveling with the master’s classes she had always wanted to take.

“I wanted to spread my wings and see what else I could learn, what’s going on in the industry and how strategic communication is evolving in our environment— especially during COVID,” Johannsen said. “When I saw this program, it seemed like a perfect fit. It was manageable, and from a school I knew was reputable.”

With only a few courses under her belt, Johannsen has already been able to apply what she’s learned to her current role as Senior Account Executive on the McDonalds accounts for Seyferth PR in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

For instance, in the Research Methods: Design and Analysis course where students walk through the entire research process, Johannsen said it was a good learning experience to understand how critical it is to take your time to do research—especially when you’re in a communication role. 

“It was a really informative class every step of the way because, particularly in a PR agency setting, we usually don’t allot for budget and/or time to thoroughly research,” Johannsen said. 

At the public relations agencies she’s worked for, they’ve typically relied on social media or media as the main indicator of whether or not a campaign worked. Johannsen said the research methods class gave her some really good insight into how one can generate additional analytics from various types of surveys and interviews. 

In her Visual Design for Strategic Communications class, she’s been able to dive into creative design software programs like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign which has helped her communicate more effectively with her creative team counterparts.

“I’m constantly giving the creative team members direction and asking them to do projects to further support my campaigns, but I never knew how to do any of it,” Johannsen said. “I can talk to people now with more awareness of what’s actually possible versus just telling them what I want and hoping they can make it happen.”

Expected to graduate in May 2022, Johannsen still has plenty more courses to take and a lot left to learn. She is excited to continue applying what she’s learning in the virtual classroom to her own, real-world career.

“Everything I have learned from this program so far has impacted my thinking as a communication professional,” Johannsen said. “Each lesson has something that I can apply to my current profession which makes it so worth it and valuable. I can take these lessons anywhere I go in my career.”


Applications are currently being accepted for the August 2021 cohort of both our master’s and certificate program. If you’re not ready to apply, consider joining our mailing list so we can keep you updates on important information and dates.

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THE SECRET SAUCE: ECD APRIL CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT AIMS HIGH BEAMS ON PRSA DETROIT

The ECD April 2021 Chapter Spotlight clicks on the high beams and shines brightly on the Motor City and the PRSA Detroit Chapter.  Our thanks go to Sharon Tatom Garcia, APR and Detroit Chapter President for offering Spotlight information and insights into her chapter.

You may think it takes a hard sell to close the deal in Motown.  But Sharon was quick to take the ECD pitch for putting Detroit in the Spotlight:

“We’ve been thinking about reaching out ever since Jennifer Day became a Platinum Award winner and ascended to the PRSA board. Your chapter has a lot to be proud of – including our esteemed past president Jennifer Flowers Kolf!”

War-time Detroit was not back to manufacturing cars yet in 1945 when the PRSA Detroit chapter was founded.  But Sharon rolled out the chapter history like the gleaming Ford Super DeLuxe Tudor, the most popular car of 1946.

The Detroit chapter emerged from the tough COVID year of 2020 with a similar post-war resolve to be better than ever. They pulled off dynamic virtual events for the board retreat and the annual meeting. “We wanted our members to feel supported and to provide value when they needed it most,” said Sharon.

They continued to lean in to D&I initiatives, working to build the board and committees with a diverse group of leaders which represent the makeup of metro Detroit and offering a “Diversity Moment” during board meetings.

Most of all, they honored their people. From the most esteemed members who have risen nationally in PRSA, to the hardworking committee volunteers, both young and seasoned pros, and the loyal senior council members who continue to renew their memberships long after retirement. “They are of great value to the chapter,” said Sharon.

Special recognition goes to a contributor who is the “secret sauce” of the chapter.  What will Detroit do without her?  Find out how they carry on.

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SURVEY – PRSA Detroit Chapter

Completed by Sharon Tatom Garcia, APR; 2021 PRSA Detroit President with help from the PRSA Detroit Executive Board

Give us a brief history of your chapter.

Our Detroit chapter was formed in 1945, 76 years ago, with 260 members. In March 2020 we had over 350 members, but we soon began to see a sharp decrease in membership due to economic insecurity around the COVID-19 crisis. We are excited to see our membership beginning to increase once again. Tradition holds that at the annual meeting in November, the incoming president shares their vision and some key objectives with the chapter, and the board and committees will work together to accomplish them throughout the year.

#1 goal for 2021: Every member finds value in their membership.

This year’s key objectives are to increase mentorship and networking opportunities and provide professional development programs around leadership and our roles as communicators in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Who are your current executive officers?

  • President – Sharon Tatom Garcia, Director of Communications, The Salvation Army, Eastern Michigan Division.
  • Past President – Kim Eberhardt, Account Director at Identity.
  • President Elect – Michelle Gilbert, Vice President – Public Relations, Heartland Region at Comcast.
  • Treasurer – Maribeth Farkas, Account Supervisor at Caponigro Public Relations.
  • Secretary – TaQuinda Johnson, Social Media Specialist at Eastern Michigan University.

Describe your membership.

Our members are PR and communications professionals representing agencies of all sizes, sole practitioners, nonprofit, government, education, and corporate spanning numerous industries, including automotive, healthcare and technology.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

Our annual meeting attracts the largest audience each year. Even last November, during Michigan’s second COVID-19 shut down, we held a virtual annual meeting in which we saw a very solid turnout. We welcomed our newly elected board members, thanked those whose terms were up, celebrated Kelly Rossman-McKinney, APR, Fellow PRSA, being elected into the PRSA Detroit Hall of Fame and reflected back on the challenging year in a video featuring members.

(Photos include the 2021 board retreat in December. Board members and their committee volunteer gathered for a meet and greet and to establish goals and objectives for 2021).

But our biggest ongoing focus is on creating consistent programs that resonate with our members.

How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?

In addition to holding a successful virtual annual meeting, we have continued to provide virtual robust and relevant professional education programs to our members – all at no cost to members.

Between May and December of 2019, we created a program called “Professional Transition Connect,” which connected PRSA Detroit members who had been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis, with nonprofit communications leaders. This program’s objective was to assist our members by offering professional communications services to nonprofits in need; in return, the member had the opportunity to keep their resumes up to date during their layoff, as well as network and make new professional connections during an extremely uncertain time. We wanted our members to feel supported and to provide value when they needed it most.

How has your chapter leaned into Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?

I’m proud to share that our Diversity and Inclusion Committee grew in volunteers this year! We currently have 6 committee members and 3 of them are on the board. Our overarching objectives for 2021 continue our longtime commitment to leadership in the D&I space.

  1. Continue partnering with MI PRSA chapters on MI-wide DE&I strategies so that we can continue to provide leadership and resources to our members at a statewide level
  2. Provide interesting and relevant programming, and collaborate with expert leaders and speakers
  3. Building a leadership pipeline for communications professionals currently underrepresented.
  4. Establish a “Diversity Moment” during board meetings. A D&I committee member will research a trending topic and present a bite-sized report (including guidance and best practices). This investment during board meetings has been an effort to deepen the board’s knowledge of important DE&I topics so that they may serve as informed allies in the workplaces they represent.

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

We are proud to have grown so many stellar leaders – many of whom have risen to regional and national levels of PrSA service. Jennifer Day, APR, Platinum Award winner, ascended to the national PRSA board, and our very own Jennifer Flowers Kolf, APR, is an ECD past president. We are also extremely proud to be one of the leading chapters in members achieving the APR. I personally am proud of the Detroit’s chapter’s response of leadership and strong communication when the COVID-19 crisis began, and around the national reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?

Certainly, sponsor support helps keep our chapter vibrant, particular during a year where we were not holding in-person events for a fee.

In addition to the generous support of our sponsors, our chapter remains strong thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteer leaders who donate their time and talent to serve on the board and committees. Without their creativity, expertise and grit, we couldn’t provide the resources that we do.

Any “little known fact” about your chapter to share?

One thing – or rather, one person – has been our secret sauce for many years. For over 33 years, Nancy Skidmore has served as a friendly face at programs, and has provided countless connections and counsel to communications professionals throughout every stage of their careers. On top of her stellar administrative duties, she provided meaningful professional and even personal support and care when a member needed it most. She retires on April 30 and her presence will be truly missed.

Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you?

You are welcome to contact me anytime at sharon.tatomgarcia@usc.salvationarmy or on my cell at (248) 331-5561.

SHARON TATOM GARCIA, APR: 2021 PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) Detroit Chapter President; Director of Communications, The Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division.

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Inaugural Leadership Forum Focuses on APR

Photo: Jennifer Kramer, APR, director, ECD Board; John Palmer, APR, chair, ECD Board; Kaylin Staten, APR, secretary, ECD Board; Mark Rademacher, Associate Professor, Strategic Communication, chair, College of Communication, Butler University (event sponsor); and Tara Smith, Tara Smith, MS, APR, Graduate Director and Public Relations Instructor at University of Delaware (event keynote). 

PRSA ECD’s inaugural Leadership Forum on March 25 emphasized APR. The forum’s keynote speaker was Tara Smith, MS, APR, Graduate Director and Public Relations Instructor at University of Delaware, and Founder of Tara Lynn Communications. Tara has more than 15 years of experience in PR and is active with PRSA. She currently serves as Vice President and Ethics Officer for PRSA Delaware Chapter. Previously, Tara served nationally on the Educational Affairs Committee, was an officer of the Board of Directors for PRSA New York, and held numerous leadership positions with PRSA Georgia.

ECD Leadership Forums are designed to share effective practices related to chapter leadership and excellence in the public relations profession. Forums are open to PRSA and PRSSA chapter leaders and members of the district. ECD 2021 Leadership Forums are sponsored by Butler University Strategic Communication Graduate programs. ECD board secretary Kaylin Staten, APR (PRSA West Virginia Chapter) and director-at-large member Jennifer Kramer, APR (PRSA Akron Chapter) are co-chairs of the Leadership Forums.

Click here to view the webinar. 

By John Palmer, APR

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PROOF IN PERFORMANCE: ECD MARCH CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON WEST MICHIGAN PRSA

The ECD March 2021 Chapter Spotlight shines on the West Michigan PRSA Chapter.  We’re grateful to Kim Skeltis, APR and WMPRSA President for providing the information and insights into her chapter.

We knew Kim would be compelled to sing the praises of West Michigan PRSA, especially since ECD owes so much to West Michigan’s legacy of leadership.  I wrote Kim and said, “I’ve been thinking about reaching out ever since interviewing Clare Wade about her Fellowship. Your chapter has a lot to be proud of – including our esteemed past president Adrienne Wallace!”  How could she refuse?

You’ll learn in the March Chapter Spotlight how West Michigan embraced the challenges of COVID-19 and Diversity & Inclusion.

“We switched to 100 percent virtual programming in 2020, which we are continuing in 2021,” says Kim. “The silver lining is we can bring in national-caliber speakers without paying travel fees, and we can pass along cost savings to our attendees. We’ve reduced monthly program pricing…  our programs also are more accessible, with virtual access eliminating geographic boundaries.”

The pride comes through with WMPRSA’s PRoof Awards, and the new D&I Program. “We knew it was the right thing to do – but the proof was in the attendance figures,” said Kim. “It tells us that there is a strong desire for more professional development programs on this important topic.”

And there are always the small surprises that come when chapters bask in the glow of the Chapter Spotlight. For West Michigan… watch for the “May-December” serendipity of their membership!

ECD 2021 CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT SURVEY – West Michigan PRSA Chapter

Completed by Kim Skeltis, APR; 2021 WMPRSA President

Give us a brief history of your chapter:

The West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA) was formed in 1984 and is one of four chapters in Michigan. WMPRSA represents the largest geographic footprint of Michigan’s PRSA chapters, comprising 100 PRSA members in the western half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. We also are the sponsoring chapter to PRSSA chapters at Ferris State University and Grand Valley State University.

Who are your current executive officers?

  • President: Kim Skeltis, APR (Blue Blaze Public Relations)
  • President Elect: Andria Romkema (The Right Place, Inc.)
  • Secretary: Kristen Krueger-Corrado (Grand Rapids Public Library)
  • Treasurer: Adrienne Wallace, PhD (Grand Valley State University, BlackTruck Media + Marketing)
  • Immediate Past President: Amanda St. Pierre, APR (Aquinas College)

Describe your membership:

While the chapter represents a large geographic area of West Michigan, 77 percent of our members hail from Greater Grand Rapids. Our WMPRSA membership is comprised of a diverse cross-section of industries and company settings. Our members primarily support the healthcare, association/nonprofit, professional services, education and retail industries. Work settings are almost an even split between agency (29 percent), nonprofit (27 percent) and corporate (24 percent), with the remaining 20 percent a combination of education, government and other settings.

WMPRSA includes professionals at every end of the career spectrum – with 41 percent of membership with 10 years or less of experience, 29 percent with 11 to 19 years of experience, and 31 percent at 20-plus years of experience. We also are proud to boast 29 members Accredited in Public Relations and two in the PRSA College of Fellows.

What is normally your biggest project of the year?

Our biggest project of the year typically is our PRoof Awards, the “Oscars” of the West Michigan PR industry. This not only is our highest attended event (and full of fanfare and networking in a beautiful setting), it is an important annual chapter fundraiser. We are excited to bring it back in 2021 after a one-year hiatus due to COVID. We have retooled it to be a “look-live” virtual program, and we’re allowing entries for work completed in 2020 and 2019. We also added two new project categories this year – COVID Communications and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like many PRSA chapters, we had to rethink how we would gather so we could meet safety guidelines yet continue to give our members value. We switched to 100 percent virtual programming in 2020, which we are continuing in 2021. The silver lining is we can bring in national-caliber speakers without paying travel fees, and we can pass along cost savings to our attendees. We’ve reduced monthly program pricing since our events have gone virtual, making these programs free for those who are unemployed, underemployed or students. Our programs also are more accessible, with virtual access eliminating geographic boundaries, plus closed captioning and ASL available by request.

While we started this program back in late 2019, we ramped up our experience-based cohort gatherings during the pandemic as an important networking channel.Our chapter created three cohort groups by decade (0-9 years, 10-19 and 20+) that meet regularly to talk about relevant issues. These roundtable discussions are more informal and lead to additional networking – and best of all, they are free to members.

How has your chapter leaned into the issue of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?

We readily admit we have more work to do in this area, starting with diversifying our membership base (only three percent of our members identify as non-white). That said, we have stepped up our commitment level this year by creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee as one of our chapter’s eight committees.

We also continue to host an annual signature DE&I event, which we have done since 2019 (our second-highest attended event annually after PRoof Awards). We are further working to integrate DE&I as an ongoing theme in our regular programming, evidenced by our February program, “Actions, Authenticity & Allyship,” aboutwhy we need to develop a long-term strategy for advancing equity. Finally, we created a WMPRSA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund Grant in 2019 for PRSSA seniors who wish to pursue a DE&I experience, in which they can apply for up to $1,000 toward that experience (they also will receive their first year of chapter membership dues free if joining the WMPRSA chapter upon graduation).

What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?  Why?

Probably our chapters’ most recent proud achievement is the addition of a signature annual diversity, equity and inclusion program. We knew it was the right thing to do – but the proof was in the attendance figures. We had 212 people attend the first year ever – many of whom weren’t members. It tells us that there is a strong desire for more professional development programs on this important topic. The related scholarship fund created that year is something to be proud of to recognize the importance of advancing DEI in the communications community within West Michigan. The fund is intended to support the next generation of diverse communications professionals following the lead of the PRSA Foundation, whose mission is to support rising talent and improve diversity.

Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share?

We have almost the same number of members with five or less years of experience (27 percent) as we have members with 20-plus years of experience (31 percent). That’s quite a range! We also have a high ratio of APRs among those who are eligible, with 43 percent of eligible members having their Accreditation in Public Relations. And two Fellows isn’t bad either! 

What’s your secret to a “happy chapter” – especially in the challenging year of 2020

I think the secret to a happy chapter, especially in these difficult times, is to continue finding ways to add value and stay relevant. That means providing ongoing communications, timely programming reflecting current events, and creative ways to connect and network when we can’t gather in person. It also means meeting members where they are at financially, noting we’ve seen the largest attrition rate in our chapter’s history in the last year from job loss, dues no longer being paid by employers, and other financial hardships. We always have room for improvement, but in our 2020 membership survey, we were gratified to receive feedback like, “You guys are doing a great job during this tough time. Appreciate the effort!” “You are doing a fantastic job when everyone is reinventing how to offer value. Thank you!” and “Doing well despite difficult times.”

Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you?

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BUTLER UNIVERSITY STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION GRADUATE PROGRAMS: FACULTY Q&A WITH KEVIN WANG

PRSA East Central District is proud to have Butler University as our educational sponsor of this year’s leadership development programs.

Kevin Wang came to Butler University in 2011. It was his first full-time teaching position outside of graduate school, and he was joining Butler’s College of Communication early in its inception. He, alongside his colleagues, was integral in building the undergraduate Strategic Communication program at Butler. 

Fast forward to today—Wang is no longer in Indianapolis. In fact, he’s living in Taiwan—but that hasn’t stopped him from staying closely connected to the Butler community. Wang teaches Research Methods Design and Analysis for Butler’s fully online Master’s of Strategic Communication program which launched in fall 2020. Excited to be a part of a program he shared a few insights about the course he teaches and the program overall. 

Q: Can you share a little about the course you teach and why it’s relevant in today’s world? 

A: I teach Research Methods Design and Analysis. Through my pre-course survey, I found that the great majority of students have not taken a research methods course before. Yet many of them are responsible for, or are doing, research in their current position. So you can imagine, many of them didn’t feel confident about what they do. And logically, it just doesn’t seem right. You have all these organizations putting people in charge of doing research who don’t have much background in research. I ask my students very purposely every week to talk about how they can take the concept we’re learning about and apply it to their current organization. I ask them to reflect critically and apply these things. 

Q: What is the most interesting topic within your course?

A: As someone who has taught research methods for a long time and who enjoys teaching it, everything about research methods is interesting to me. For me, if I had to pick one, the topic that I find most interesting, is data visualization, which is how we can communicate complex information and complex data clearly and effectively through visualizations and graphics.

Data visualization is a topic that I think resonated with many students because of their strong desire to learn more about how to communicate effectively and clearly. We live in such an information-rich environment and our job as communication professionals is to not only gather data and gather research, but also know how to share those results and turn those results into actionable insights.

Q: How are you having students apply what they learn in your classroom to the real world?

A: I have my students walk through the entire research process. From conceptualization to presenting the results. Until they do that, they don’t realize that as a researcher they can do a lot to influence the outcomes. Most students expressed that they were nervous about this class, and a lot of them said in course evaluations that they are now more confident as a researcher. Here are a few of the qualitative comments from the course evaluations:


“For the first time in my career, I believe I understand how to collect, organize, and analyze qualitative data—a deficiency I’ve battled for years to no avail.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed being able to take the statistical concepts we learned and apply them to real world situations.”

“Every week there was a piece of the material that was applicable to most of our roles.”

Who would be a good fit for the master’s program?

A: I would say this program is best for mid-career professionals who want to update their skills—get a refresher—or people who are looking to make a change in their career and move into strategic communication. People who are mid-career professionals are probably going to get the most out of our programs because they’ll be able to take the things they learn and apply them right away. 


Applications are currently being accepted for the August 2021 cohort of both our master’s and certificate program. If you’re not ready to apply, consider joining our mailing list so we can keep you updates on important information and dates.

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PRSA EAST CENTRAL DISTRICT LAUNCHES LEADERSHIP FORUM SERIES

Value of Accreditation in Public Relations is Topic of Inaugural Session

PRSA East Central District (ECD) will host a new learning series each quarter beginning this month, which is open to all Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) members in the district. The ECD Leadership Forum will focus on sharing effective practices related to chapter leadership and excellence in the public relations profession.

Tara L. Smith, M.S., APR, the director of the M.A. in Strategic Communication program and a full-time instructor for the University of Delaware’s Department of Communication, will kick off the series Thursday, March 25 with “Perception is Reality: Why the APR Matters.”

Smith is also the founder of Tara Lynn Communications. Previously, Smith lived in New York City and worked in public relations and corporate communication roles at the NBCUniversal News Group headquarters, Time Warner Inc., and Ketchum Public Relations. 
 
For more than 15 years, Smith has been active in PRSA. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for PRSA Delaware as the Vice President and is the Ethics Officer for the chapter. Previously, Smith served nationally on the Educational Affairs Committee, was an officer of the Board of Directors for PRSA New York and held numerous leadership positions with PRSA Georgia.

Throughout her career, Smith has gained recognition from notable industry awards, including the CLIOs, SABREs, and the coveted PRSA Silver Anvil Award. She was also selected as PR Week Magazine’s 2006 Student of the Year during her senior year of college. Smith completed her M.S. in public relations and corporate communication from New York University with distinction and a B.A. in public relations from The Pennsylvania State University. In 2017, she attained Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).

The Leadership Forum is free and will run from noon to 12:30 p.m. EST on Zoom. To register, visit https://www.prsaecd.org/resources/2021-leadership-forums.


PRSA ECD Leadership Forums
ECD 2021 Leadership Forums are sponsored by Butler University Strategic Communication Graduate programs. ECD board secretary Kaylin Staten, APR (PRSA West Virginia Chapter) and director-at-large member Jennifer Kramer, APR (PRSA Akron Chapter) are co-chairs of the Leadership Forums. 

About PRSA East Central District
Established by PRSA in 1954, the East Central District is one of 10 districts in the society serving as a vital link between local chapters and national. ECD is dedicated to advancing leadership development, programming, and award recognition within our 17 district member chapters in PA, OH, WV, KY, IN & MI. For more information, click here.

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WHY A BUTLER UNIVERSITY STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS MASTER’S DEGREE OR GRADUATE CERTIFICATE? WE HAVE A FEW REASONS

PRSA East Central District is proud to have Butler University as our educational sponsor of this year’s leadership development programs

Butler University is one of the region’s most outstanding and innovative institutions for teaching and learning as confirmed by recent U.S. News & World Report rankings. And our Strategic Communication graduate programs are a reflection of our excellent academic programs.

We offer both a Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication as well as a Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication. These flexible, fully online programs consist of comprehensive 7-week course modules. The Master’s degree can be completed in as little as 20 months and the graduate certificate in just two semesters, if continuously enrolled.


Our students could give many reasons to apply to our programs but here are five of our favorites.

1. Learn the skills for the job you want.

A master’s degree or certificate in strategic communication could open doors at the highest level for employment in public relations and advertising agencies, non-profits, large hospital and health systems, higher education, politics, tourism, and countless other fields.

2. Understand how to leverage all types of communication. 

Our program follows the PESO model, identifying and maximizing synergies across paid, earned, shared, and owned communication channels. You’ll learn why, how, and when to strategically utilize these forms of communication to build comprehensive campaigns.   

3. Achieve your employer’s objectives (and be able to prove it).

Research and data allow you to connect your outreach efforts to valued outcomes. “Awareness” still matters, but so do engagement and actionable results. You will be able to show that you moved the needle in all categories. 

4. Learn to move multiple audiences to action.

When you research your targeted publics, create relevance, and connect with them, you set the stage for change. You’ll learn how to effectively engage with your audiences to help your organization reach its goals and objectives.

5. Translate research and data into language others can understand.

Data is vital to sound strategies, but it can be confusing and dangerous if used incorrectly. Your skills will help you translate research and data into effective communication in presentations, grant requests, web copy, management and board reports, and more.


With Butler University’s Master’s in Strategic Communication degree or graduate certificate, you can get the skills you need to chart the next chapter of an exceptional career.

Applications are currently being accepted for the August 2021 cohort. Or if you’re not ready to apply, consider joining our mailing list so we can keep you updates on important information and dates.

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